Posts Tagged ‘farmer’s market’

Where Have All The Farmers Gone?

At the beginning of this year’s growing season, I was frequenting several farmer’s markets a week.

Some might consider that overkill (and they wouldn’t be wrong), especially since my approach to food shopping is not at all European, or in the style of purchasing only what I require at the time.  Over the course of the past few months I’ve progressively whittled the number of markets I attend down to one regular Saturday morning trip.  For someone like me, with a constant desire to have it all, that’s no small feat.  But it was made somewhat easier once I started to open my eyes and discard my naiveté about our markets and how they are generally operated.

Year after year, the number of farmers continues to dwindle as society becomes more technologically advanced and urbanified, yet they must exist somewhere, otherwise who is growing our food?  A great, bitter and secret irony in Ontario is that many of the people that you’ll find at your local farmer’s market aren’t actually farmers at all, because strangely enough, not all markets require such a criteria of their vendors.  While it’s true that the artisan purveyors at the market have been on the downswing for a while, one thing I always had faith in was the fact that the person selling me my food at the market was connected to it in some way.  Unfortunately, in a lot of cases those people lounging around under tents in parking lots and wooded areas are just as likely to have picked up that produce at the local food terminal as they were to have harvested it themselves.  I’d read about the prevalence of this dishonesty elsewhere before, but stubbornly refused to believe it was true.  Yet, the more I started to inquire about the provenance of the food or a vendor’s involvement in producing it, the fewer answers I was left with.  The last straw finally came when I asked a “farmer” what variety of vegetables they were selling and how they were grown, and all I was met with was a blank stare. Any farmer worth their salt or the products in their pickup could tell you which varietals they sweat blood and tears growing for the last few months. Or weeks later when I showed up to another notable market, only to find bananas (not a product that grows in Canada, even) and sweet corn (this was in the beginning of June before the corn would have even been tall enough to eat) available on the tables.  And if these faux-farmers are just buying up skids at the food terminal, how is that any different than if I were to purchase said food at a supermarket?  My faith in the process having taken a hit, I immediately stopped shopping at any vendors that were unable to provide answers to the simplest of questions.  In effect, if they are selling that food under false pretences, why should I believe any other claims they might make about it, like whether it’s local or organic?  How is one to know?

In Toronto a body of concerned citizens exists to vet the farmers that sell at their markets; they formed an organization in 2007 called My Market, and their goal is to ensure that the people selling you the food are the people who grow that food, which also helps to certify that the food is actually local.  The My Market locations (there are 5) are not exclusively organic, but they are a step in the right direction towards keeping our food dollars within the community.  The market that I visit each week happens to be a My Market, and while there are a few things that seem to be missing (decent bread, a meat or sausage vendor and blueberries) the motley group of 10 to 12 vendors are always happy and friendly, and exhibit exorbitant amounts of passion when discussing their wares.  Not only will they talk your ear off about the latest assortment of fruit and veg from their farms, but they have the dirt under their nails and smeared over their boots to prove it.  In this day and age, authenticity still counts for something, after all.

And that is something I can feel good about.  So now you know where I spend my Saturday mornings, but what about you?

Until next time…

You Don’t Win Friends With Salad

Peppers And Salad And Bread, Oh My!

We’ve recently entered my favourite segment of summer; abundance.

You can’t swing a cat at the farmer’s markets around town without hitting a veritable cornucopia of jewel-toned fruits and veggies just ripe for the eating.  The dazzling arrays of produce are mildly hypnotic, and I often end up purchasing more than I would normally eat just because it looks so yummy.  Of course, there’s really no downside to increasing your fruit and veggie ingestion, just let your senses guide you toward the items you find pleasing to the palate.

To that end, I’ve been running a bit of an experiment in our household this week, using the Everyman and I as guinea pigs.  Not only has our f&v consumption increased due to seasonal factors and availability, but I’ve also been decreasing our meat intake and replacing it with vegetarian protein sources for lunch, therefore only consuming modest amounts of meat for dinner.  In a roundabout way it’s sort of an offshoot of Mark Bittman’s VB6 (vegan before 6) concept, except that I am not ruling out the occasional bit of milk, cream or cheese.  Otherwise it’s somewhat more challenging to provide ample protein to the Everyman who is allergic to nuts, averse to eggs and until recently, detested tofu.

As I mentioned earlier this week I finally mastered a decent tofu dish, and our lunch Tuesday was broiled tempeh in a cherry jalapeno barbecue sauce.  Yesterday’s midday meal was a textured vegetable protein (soy flake), bulgur and ricotta stuffed pepper, and of the three, only one was a dud (the tempeh).  I’ve been supplementing these meatless meals with all of the bounty my local markets have to offer, including gorgeous yellow watermelon wedges, handfuls of plump multicoloured heirloom cherry tomatoes, the second coming of strawberries, wild blueberries, grilled corn, beets, nutty sunflower sprouts and freshly shelled peas.  We certainly haven’t been starved for options in the Foodie and the Everyman kitchen this week.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I could give up meat forever (far from it), but the exercise has allowed me to get more comfortable with omnivorousness and the flexitarian mentality.  I can cook well, but there is a marked difference between making a veggie side dish tasty and making a vegetarian meal satisfying enough that you don’t miss the meat.  Except for the tempeh fiasco, the Everyman’s not complaining either, so I must be doing something right.  The main upside for me is that this more plant-centric diet has left me feeling lighter, less sluggish and bloated during the blistering heat and humidity wave we’ve been enduring.

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Once More With Feeling

The Whole Kit And Kaboodle

I have an addiction to farmer’s markets.  I think my numerous posts on the subject during the past few weeks have made that abundantly clear.

Last week I tried to cut back, and only visited two of the three that are local to my home or office.  Until my Zephyr Organics CSA farmshare begins, I’m greedily scooping up as much fresh, local produce as I can.  Not to mention that the lacklustre performance of my roof garden thus far has spurred me on to even more market mischief than usual.  Owing more to the crappy May and June weather than to my lack of trying, I’m really hoping the garden will pick up soon.

Succulent Tomatoes

Last week, I procured a large basket of strawberries ($12), another of cherries ($8), and some sweet peas ($3) from my Mississauga market.  Saturday morning at St. Andrews saw me grabbing a baguette ($5), freshly milled and formed tomato pasta ($5), more chocolate zucchini loaf ($4), a tangle of garlic scapes ($2.50), and two pints of mixed heirloom baby tomatoes ($9).  I think that price is absolutely ludicrous, but since my tomato plants aren’t even knee high yet, with nary a blossom to be found, I have to grin, bear it and take what I can get. (more…)

Out Of The Ashes Of Obscurity

Today's Spread

Being somewhat of a locawhore myself, I have a tendency to frequent many more farmer’s markets per week than I can possibly consume purchases from.

During the past 7 days I had already spent time (and funds) at the Trinity Bellwoods Market ($35), the Square One Market ($24) and now the newly opened St. Andrews Market ($41).  There’s no doubt that having ideals can be somewhat costly, but luckily it’s also pretty delicious, too.

The St. Andrews Market was fairly small; given the article written in the Star I’d expected it would be voluminous (must’ve been a slow news day), yet there were only a handful (>10) of vendors on site at quarter to 10 (open from 9 to 1 every Saturday through November).   I still managed to purchase something from almost every stall, though.   Except for the veggie man, and that’s only because he teased with his pints of mini heirloom tomatoes; once you got to the table he informed that they were just for sampling.  The real ones will be available next week.  Boooooooo!!!  I did sample one, and they were quite potent, so chances are good that if I’m not doing anything next Saturday morning, I’ll be making the hour-long round trip (on foot) back there.

Here’s a run down of what came home with me yesterday.  You’ll notice that I more than made up for the lack of bread at the other 2 markets by going overboard at this one.  Alas, I never could manage doing things by half measures.

  • 2 boules of bread, andama corn and sundried tomato rosemary ($10)
  • 1 apple pie ($8)
  • 1 tray of mixed tartlets, cherry and apple crumble ($7)
  • 1 mini chocolate zucchini loaf ($4)
  • 1 500 ml jar melon blossom honey ($6)
  • 1 pint strawberries ($6)

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Mississauga Munchables

This Week's Edibles

I managed to make it to the market at lunch this afternoon, and while it was not the full blown produce orgy I’d been hoping for (we’ve had a pretty crappy season weather-wise thus far), it was still entertaining enough to hold my attention for half an hour.

The Square One website boasts close to 150 participants at their weekly farmer’s market (running both Fridays and Sundays), but on this inaugural day, I was lucky to find ~20 stalls set up.  I thought perhaps I’d come too early, but the web advertises an 8am start time.  I suppose it’s only the first day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more vendors just show up on the Sunday (guaranteeing a larger captive audience for themselves).

Still, it was a worthwhile endeavor.  Wandering around the barely populated parking lot outside of Zeller’s, the subdued atmosphere allowed for a better chance to talk to the individual vendors.  There were no stroopwafels in sight (dammit!), nor any breads or baked goods as far as the eye could see, but there were plenty of fruit and veggie options, a few seedling tables, 2 stalls devoted to cured meats and a roving ice cream truck.  For a mere $24, I walked away with the following:

  • 5 hot pepperettes ($5 for 10)
  • 5 mild pepperettes ($5 for 10)
  • 2 links of chobai ($5)
  • 3 bunches of asparagus (2.75 lbs $6)
  • 1 750 ml jar of jalapeno paste ($6)
  • 1 pint poblano peppers ($2)

Most of today’s purchases are really for the Everyman, but it’s not a bad haul for my first visit, don’t you think?

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Food, Glorious Food!

I sliced off half a fingernail tonight by reaching into a drawer and coming out with a mandolin blade stuck to my hand instead of a Ziploc.  Even with such a bloody (literally) setback, my spirits cannot be dampened.

You see, after a great deal of impatience on my part, the mother of all farmer’s markets is slated to open for the season at Square One tomorrow.

It’s supposedly one of the biggest markets in the GTA, which practically guarantees there’ll be some truly unique products.  Other than those addictive stroopwafels and a bushel of asparagus, I’m not really sure what I’ll be looking for.  Which is one of the things I love about the marketing experience.

My coworkers, for the most part are fairly jaded and unimpressed by such things, but I am certainly excited.  Some of them even dislike farmer’s markets, claiming they’re too expensive and provide an inferior quality of food, but I disagree.  I’ve never been the type of person who gets hung up on perfectly spherical apples, or robustly globular tomatoes.  My carrots need not be symmetrical and my lettuce is welcome to be any color of the rainbow.  I’d rather that produce be flavorful and have character than win some garden variety beauty pageant any day.

Farmer’s market’s are more than just a venue for purchasing food, though; they’re a communal feast for all of the senses.  There’s nothing I love more than a leisurely stroll around a market to take in all the sights, smells and sounds of unbridled outdoor camaraderie.  If you find a good one, the people are friendly, the conversation is good, and you just might come away with something previously undiscovered and delicious in the process.  Some of my other coworkers are merely market neophytes, so I’m hoping to turn at least a few of them on to the joys of weekly outings by the end of the summer.

And if nothing else, I bet they’ll be jealous once I start coming back with luscious pints of fresh, juicy berries.  I’ll be nice and let them have one; then tell them to back off and get their own!  I mean, it’s only fair, right?

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Market Meals June

New This Week

I’m a fairly industrious person by nature.

Yesterday morning for instance, I baked a loaf of banana bread and prepped a batch of pizza dough before I’d even left for work at 7:30.  That was in addition to the usual girliness of getting ready, packing lunch and tending to the animals (plus rousing the Everyman) that I normally do every day.

Since it was Tuesday I knew there’d be a farmer’s market opportunity when I got home, and for whatever reason I had grilled pizza on my mind.  This article from last week probably has something to do with it, plus the days are (slowly) getting warmer and that always makes me want to crack open the open air grill.  So, I whipped up a batch of dough before departing, figuring I’d work out the fine details whilst at the market and be ready to go once I returned.

When I got to the market (which now comes equipped with it’s own website) it turned out the universe had slightly different plans.  No doubt I’m usually one of the last people there since I’m coming from Mississauga during rush hour, but there was still half an hour until the market was supposed to close, but no veggies were in sight.  In fact, a few of the vendors were already gone, and others were in the process of packing up to go.  Just like that, visions of grilled asparagus pizza that had danced through my head went foop!  I wandered around the remaining stalls somewhat dejectedly, now unsure of what to make for dinner.  Then I came across the Millbank Creamery stand with it’s stacks of cheese and local Amish butter.  I grabbed a pound of butter and a chunk of mozzarella cheese and decided not to abandon the pizza plan just yet.  I stopped to see friendly Seth at Forbes to see if I could rustle up anything pizza-worthy, but all that was left were jars of preserves and dried nuts, seeds and berries, so I picked up a bottle of Labrador tea vinegar and carried on.  Seth says Labrador tea is beguilingly spicy, so I figure this vinegar might be the salad sprinkle of choice come summer.  As I headed down the path to leave, I passed The Local Cafe stand that foils me every time (since the market opened I’ve been trying to scrounge a yummy quick bread that the Everyman loves, but by the time I get there they’re always long gone).  Today was no different so I kept moving, but out of the corner of my eye I spied something on the Evelyn’s Crackers table; a lone bag of red fife wheat.  Eyes darting quickly around to ensure no one else had noticed it, I hied my way to the table and handed over the dough.  What a wonderful and unexpected prize.  I was almost upset that I’d already made pizza dough because I love red fife (really all hard flours; our standard is a hard unbleached wheat that comes flecked with it’s bran by the giant sack from Bob).  With that I began the short jaunt to home and started pondering what would make a good pizza.

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Briefly, Chiefly

Market Goodies

I’ve been feeling a wee bit aggravated and out of sorts since I fell off the counter last week.

We did manage to hit our local farmer’s market on Tuesday, but hobbling around somewhat killed my enjoyment of the atmosphere (plus it was spitting rain).  The main reason we went was that I promised someone I’d come back this week if they could get me something, and I like to be a woman of my word.  I stopped by to see Seth, my friend from Forbes Wild Foods, because I’d asked him to procure some additional elderflowers for me, and like the gentle soul he is, he did just that.  He also brought me a jug of elderflower syrup that his boss had made and mentioned that when I am sick of playing with my homemade cordial, I am welcome to buy his instead :)   I also picked up a small bag of dried sweet chestnuts, that I have no pressing plans for, other than that I just love chestnuts to begin with.  He told me a funny little anecdote as we were settling up; apparently there was a bit of a friendly scuffle over my bag of elderflowers because it was the last one, and a chef had his eye on them too.  Lucky for me I got first dibs because I’d requested them last week, which just goes to show that it pays to make friends with your local purveyors.

So, while there wasn’t an opportunity to create a market meal this week as I’d planned, (nothing new was available; just more of the same old ramps and asparagus) I’m sure I’ll have fun futzing around with the dried chestnuts.  There’s definitely some elderflower jelly and ice cream in my future, but who knows, there could also be a chestnut pudding or brownie coming too!

Until next time…

Score!

Killer Finds

I was bummed that I didn’t get my ‘nduja meats yesterday, but it inadvertently allowed me a chance to get to the first farmers market of the season at Trinity Bellwoods park last night.  The market was relatively small, what with being so early in the season, but that certainly didn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile.

I love the conviviality of an outdoor market setting.  It’s so much more relaxed and comfortable, and you get a chance to talk to the purveyors one on one.  Like the ramp guy I chatted up last night, for instance.  I zeroed in on his stall as soon as I saw the giant basket of ramps, ecstatic that I’d get to have a few more before the season was over.  While I was waiting for him to finish up with another customer, I started perusing the other offerings on his table.  Lo and behold, didn’t I find a jar of jellied elderberry!  Since it appeared to be the only one, I clutched it in my hot little hand while waiting for my turn, not willing to give up this golden find to anyone.  They also had saskatoonberry compote, which is another wild-ish fruit I love, so I grabbed a jar of those too.  They had lingonberry and cloudberry and dozens of other things I would’ve loved to take home, but I knew I had to restrain myself, or else I’d have bought the entire tables’ worth of preserves in one fell swoop.

When it was finally my turn, (still clutching my elderberry jam) I asked for a pound of ramps and then inquired whether they ever carried the elderflowers (which I’ve been searching for in vain for a few months now and are supposedly amazing for making cordials and cocktails, etc).   Like some sort of crazy dream, the guy at the Forbes Wild Foods table grinned a megawatt grin, reached into a cooler under the table and pulled out a bag of dried elderflowers.  I’d been initially hoping for fresh, but considering this was the first time I’d even seen them in person anywhere, I wasn’t going to press my luck.  I happily caressed the bag, imagining all the panna cottas and other baked goods I could prepare with such a giant stash.  He was so taken by my sheer joy at finding them that he decided to cut me a deal on my whole purchase too, and you can’t argue with that!  By the time I arrived though (almost 6:30) he was already out of fiddleheads (the other wild food on my wish list for the evening), but promised there’d be more next week.  Incidentally I found out this morning that my organic delivery service is carrying them this week, so I can get my fiddlehead fix elsewhere.  I strolled home from the market with a bag full of goodies and a mind whirring from all the newly created possibilities.

When I got home I decided to make the ramp tart for dinner again because sometimes you can’t have too much of a good thing.  And again, it was delicious.  But it made me realize, while I love ramps as a whole, I think I actually prefer the less used but still delicious leaves more than the lily white bulbs.  When I was sauteing the ramps for the tart I looked at the pan that contained both leaves and stems and felt a little sad that there weren’t more leaves.  So I cannabalized most of the rest of the bag, and now have 3/4 of a pound of ramp bulb and stems sitting in my fridge instead.  Silly foodie!  I’ll have to come up with some other worthwhile use for them during the next few days (other than more pickled ramps) before they get a chance to go bad.  Yay spring!

Until next time…

Game On!

The Trinity Bellwoods Farmer’s Market opens today!

Are you excited?  I know I am :)   I wonder what sorts of goodies there’s going to be?  I can’t wait to stop by after work.  Hopefully there’ll still be some good stuff left by the time I get there.

Plus, today is the day I pick up my variety meats from The Healthy Butcher, which means it’s ‘nduja time! The butcher called to say there was a mix up at the slaughterhouse and my stuff wouldn’t be in this week.  So I’ll have to wait 7 more days until I get my meat on, unfortunately.

Curses!  Alas, there will be no ‘nduja or csabai making being done in our house this weekend.  I wonder what else I should do to fill up my time?

Until next time…

To Market, To Market, To Fetch A Fine Pig

I don’t really have anything useful or profound to contribute to the website today.

I could sit here and tell you about the drink I ordered at Czehoski’s that the Everyman loved so much he had to chat up the bartender and then get denied the recipe (a tequila meggy, incidentally).  Or about how I’m still stunned that the local bakery owned by a guy I went to highschool with (Messa Bites) was supplanted by some hipster-looking coffee house called Ezra’s Pound.  Or I could even talk about how tired all the swine flu references are becoming (point it jumped the shark for me was when someone in my monthly all-hands meeting at work coughed on me and then said I hope you don’t mind, I had ham for breakfast).  But no, today I won’t dwell on those matters…

I’m a bit flummoxed. Over a week ago I sent in an order to Homeland to secure dirt for the garden that is rapidly expanding and outgrowing my basement.  After not hearing back from them for a few days, I decided to call.  The person I got on the other end of the line was at best indifferent and at worst rude, and basically told me they were on the other line talking to someone and they would call me back later.  So, being the kind-hearted soul that I am, I again gave them the benefit of the doubt.  That was 4 days ago.  I still haven’t heard back from them, and I refuse to call again.  Clearly they don’t need my business that badly if they can’t even be bothered to call me back.  To make matters worse, all of the other places I’ve contacted for quotes on dirt have not gotten back to me either.  Though in the process of searching I did unearth a new and potentially delicious garden product; cocoa nibs as ground cover.  I’m sure they smell heavenly, and as long as they mulch half decently, I think I know what I’ll be going for.  Unless, (as the Everyman suspects) they attract more rodents.  I spent all of last summer involuntarily giving my melons away to the squirrel and raccoon population that terrorized our deck; I do not plan on a sequel.

In the meantime while I wait to get my own garden in order, I can take comfort in the Trinity Bellwoods Farmer’s Market for homegrown produce, which starts a week tomorrow.  I was most looking forward to getting in touch with the cheese vendor who turned me on to Oh My Stars last year, but for the life of me I can’t remember who it was (my gut is saying either Monforte or Ewenity, though neither make mention of it on their website).  If it happens to be Monforte I’m essentially out of luck, because from what I read on their website recently, 2009 is their renaissance while they are in the process of raising money and building their new state of the art facility, thus no new cheeses are being produced.  Mostly, I just can’t wait to run my fingers over the bushels of fresh, local foods.  Get me to a farmer’s market and I’m like a kid in a candy store, unable to control myself.  If you’re an old reader, you’ll remember how crazy my coworkers thought I was when I showed up with 12 quarts of strawberries after visiting the Metro Hall market one lunch hour (the spoils of which are still cluttering my preserves cupboard).  Or how nutty the Everyman thought I was when I insisted I needed to buy 2 dozen ears of corn to roast on the bbq and save for winter (he rolled his eyes at the time, but once he tasted it, he changed his tune; too bad our cat sitter left the freezer open all Christmas break and all my quick frozen summer produce got ruined).  Primarily I’ve been wondering what else they’ll have for me that’s new.  I do so love the surprise and uncertainty that weekly fresh marketing holds because it’s impossible to plan a menu until you get there and feast with your eyes.  And feast I will and so should you!

Until next time…

You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover… Can You?

The warm weather in Toronto right now has put me in a wonderful zen-like mood.  We’re getting to that point when the temperature is in the double digits more often than not.  And that, my friends, means we’re rounding the corner on my favorite time of year…

It first occurred to me that spring must not be far off last week, while tending to the tomato forest growing in our basement.  With the exception of the 3 varieties I planted late (Pink Zapotec, Old German and Blondkopfchen), all my seedlings are about 6 inches tall and straining to get outside.  I’ve been hesitant to put them in the outdoor ground because the fluctuating temperatures could kill them, and then where would Project Sustainability 2009 be?  Now, I’m feeling that by the end of the week I should be ready to dig a few holes in the ground, and (hopefully in the process) attempt to rejuvenate my ailing citrus trees.  But I’ve been dragging my ass again, so I still need to procure some soil before then, because one cannot garden with seeds alone!

Our return trip to Cheese Boutique for those ramps yesterday also reminded me that farmer’s market season is almost upon us.  In my opinion, that is definitely one of the best things about this time of year.  I relish the lively interaction with the farmers and discovering new products through their friendly suggestions, (like Oh My Stars cheese from the Trinity Bellwoods market last year) just makes my day.  The market near our home is due to open in 2 weeks, and I can’t hardly wait.  The larger one near my office won’t start until June or so I’m told, so I’m sure I’ll be (rather impatiently) counting the days for that.

Dreaming of market days to come got me thinking about a rather bizarre habit we have in North America.  From childhood on, we’re constantly taught that you should never judge a book by it’s cover.  It’s become somewhat of a cliche, but it still holds true in many aspects of everyday life.  The one area where I don’t think it’s relevant or has a leg to stand on would be food shopping.  The very nature of shopping for edibles practically ensures that you’ll be judging some food by its cover.  With the rare exception of finer purveyors like Cheese Boutique, or one of the “Five Thieves” and some kindly farmers, the vast majority of grocers expect you to purchase your food on faith alone.  And that’s a crying shame.  How many of us never take a chance on something different at the market because we’re unsure if we’ll like it, and would rather not waste the money if we don’t?  Or conversely, how many times have you purchased what appeared to be perfect produce only to bite into something with the texture and flavor of cardboard?  In an era where almost no one knows where their food is coming from and outbreaks of all kinds are popping up with increasing regularity, doesn’t it make sense to go that extra mile to not only know your farmer, but also try to support him (or her)?  It’s much easier to keep people honest and accountable for the things that they grow and sell when you face them every day.  Plus, knowing your farmer has the added benefit of being able to impact what is grown and form a collaborative relationship with them.  Besides, while touch and smell are great supplementary senses to aid in shopping, they shouldn’t be the only methods available, especially when so much commercially produced food is picked and pre-ripened with gases and chemicals instead of allowing natural fruition.  So this year, take a walk on the wild side and stop by your local farmer’s market.  Who knows, you just might like it…

Until next time…